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G20 panic: It looks like the bad guys are winning

Toronto should get just a grip, put aside its June jitters and start acting like a big, thriving city

Headshot of Marcus Gee

If the purpose of threatening terrorism and mass protest is to force developed countries to shut down in panic, then the bad guys seem to be winning.

As the June 26-27 G20 summit approaches, some musical theatres are planning to go dark, the University of Toronto will close its lecture halls and the grand seat of provincial democracy at Queen's Park is telling staff to stay home. Even those Masters of the Universe on Bay Street are vacating their skyscrapers and moving their trading floors to special sites outside of downtown.

The G20 was supposed to be a chance for Toronto to show off its arrival as a big, global city. So why the small-town reaction?

If we really want to impress the world, the trick is to keep the wheels of city life turning and carry on as normally as we can, not to head for the hills and leave the G20 delegates to wander a city of empty, echoing streets. That, surely, is just what the militants want: to reduce us to a state of fretful paralysis.

In a sense, it is already happening. With just three weeks to go before the summit of world leaders, groaning and griping fills the air. "Can someone please explain to me WHY the powers that be thought that having the G20 in Toronto was A GOOD IDEA?!," said one typical note on Twitter.

Hot dog sellers say they will lose business when they are shut out of a downtown security zone. Baseball fans complain about the Blue Jays fleeing the Rogers Centre to play a three-game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia, robbing them of the chance to see former Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. Theatre buffs lament losing a chance to enjoy Mamma Mia! and Rock of Ages at the Mirvish theatres on King Street.

One newspaper columnist worked himself into a froth over the fact that police are removing garbage bins from Queens Quay, a standard pre-summit precaution to prevent them from being uprooted by protesters or used to hide bombs. This, he wrote, "is another example of how local interests are being tossed to the curb for meetings that are costing Canadians at least $1-billion to host, bring in no tourist dollars and are of zero relevance to someone looking for a place to toss their hot dog wrapper."

Hey, Toronto: get a grip. This event is taking place on a summer weekend, when the city slows down anyway. Most of the action will happen in a sealed-off security zone of a few square blocks around the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, with a slightly bigger traffic zone around it. Protests are to be centred at Queen's Park.

It was unnecessary, even craven, for the U of T to decide to close its downtown St. George campus for four days. Most of the city should be able to go about its business more or less as usual. Authorities say the subway and Go trains will keep running. Union Station will be open, though Via Rail has decided not to use it. The weekend closing of the underground PATH system is hardly the end of the world, nor is the shutting of the CN Tower. Motorcades will make travel on the highways to the airport dodgy; sensible people will simply avoid them.

Yes, the billion-dollar cost of the summit is absurd, almost unbelievable. But if the security were sub par and something bad happened, imagine the consequences.

Yes, you could argue it's all a big gab fest capped with a photo opportunity, but Canada is a leading member of the G8 and the G20, a status that gives us an international voice in matters like global financial reform that affect our national future. One of the responsibilities of membership is hosting a summit. If you're going to do it, might as well do it right.

Toronto has a good story to tell here. Its successful multiculturalism is admired around the world. Its downtown is a marvel, lively even after dark and full of soaring new condos and office towers.

The summit will take place a stone's throw from Bay Street, held up by Ottawa as an example of how prudent banks and strict regulations got us through the recession with less agony than most of the world. What better boost for Toronto's ambition to become a world financial centre?

The minor headaches Torontonians will suffer for a few days in June pale beside the benefits the city should reap from a successful summit. This is a big, thriving city. Let's put aside the summit jitters and start acting like one.

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